In 1937, C.M. Dillon donated Race to the Fire, a painting that depicts engines from two rival fire companies dashing through Wilmington’s streets to see who arrived first on the scene. The painting conveys the energy and spirit of competition that characterized the city’s volunteer fire companies during the 1800s. The engine with black horses belonged to the Delaware Fire Company (founded in 1819) and the one with gray horses belonged to the Water Witch Steam Fire Company (see blog entry for 1936). Water Witch was an offshoot of the Delaware Fire Company, so there may indeed have been rivalry between them. The driver of the Delaware Fire Company engine is African American, as is the man running alongside the engines in the foreground. A dog and another man are also running along with the engines, and a woman stands at her door to see what is happening and give thanks that the engines are passing her by.
The painting is signed “JH Morgan/1880.” This might be John H. Morgan who worked as a painter for Pusey & Jones in the early 1880s. No other works by him are known.